The United States House of Representatives voted on Thursday to stop all aid to Libyan rebels fighting against Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
But it doesn’t amount to much. Here’s why:
First, only moments later, the House rejected a second measure to cut all funding for the US military involvement in Libya, effectively supporting US President Barack Obama’s decision to maintain US cooperation in the NATO mission in Libya. This also indicates that the Representatives are not quite ready to take the bold step of undercutting the NATO operations that are aimed at helping the rebels.
Three other proposals about Libya that have been put to the House in recent weeks all failed too. Though the proposals received various degrees of bipartisan support, many analysts believe that Republicans are using Libya as an opportunity to put Mr. Obama and his policies through the wringer anyway they can.
For example, the Republican-led House resolution that passed on June 3 denying Mr. Obama permission to “put members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya” was a redundancy aimed at scoring political points: Mr. Obama has said all along no troops will be deployed, and that the US is simply supporting NATO.
Second, and perhaps more relevantly, the House of Representatives can pass any number of amendments or measures, but none will amount to much more than symbolic gesture of political maneuver without the Senate’s endorsement. As of Thursday, it looked like the Senate was moving toward giving Mr. Obama an overt green light to keep troops in Libya for up to a year. The Senate will vote on that resolution – which was passed 14-5 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week – in coming days.
Third, the White House and Congress have been going head to head on Libya for weeks, and the White House has history behind it. According to the War Powers Resolution, a law passed by Congress in 1973 at the height of the Vietnam War, the President needs Congressional approval to keep the armed forces engaged in military action for more than 60 days. The American armed forces have been providing support to NATO in Libya for much longer.
However, this is where things get a little complicated. The constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution has been called into question repeatedly, and previous Presidents brushed it aside in past conflicts. Notably, President Bush Senior ignored it during the Gulf War, as did President Clinton during American involvement in Kosovo.
President Obama claims that he doesn’t need Congressional approval because American involvement fell short of full-blown hostilities. In a long report to Congress in June, the White House explained, “US operations do not involved sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve US ground troops.”
Ultimately, the takeaway lesson is this: Thursday’s proposal to cut funding to the Libyan rebels ends up being little more than the House’s attempt to put their stamp on US engagement in Libya. The House and Senate are sending muddled messages on Libya. Neither body is conveying clear support for or against US involvement; and various measures, amendments and proposals have been kicked around both chambers without definitive resolutions. And in the unlikely chance both chambers voted against all funding for Libya, the Pentagon has said it has enough in its own coffers to pay for it. So, all the while, US support for the NATO mission will continue.
(Angela Simaan, a producer in the Washington Bureau of Al Arabiya, can be reached at: email@example.com)